Ketil Bjørnstad returns to the piano/cello duo, instrumentation which defined two of his best-loved albums, “The River” and “Epigraphs” with David Darling, back in 1996 and 1998. This new collaboration with Svante Henryson, however, tells a different story, and not only because the Swedish cellist is a player of different sensibility. The conceptual framework of “Night Song” is developed from another perspective. It’s an atmospheric recording, dark-hued, and of melancholic temperament.
Ketil Bjørnstad’s work continues to gather momentum on two fronts. Each of his ECM recordings has been widely-praised in the press, with the recent “Remembrance” album described by Germany’s Jazzpodium as “klang- und formschöne Jazz-Kammermusik", and by the UK’s Daily Express as “exquisite, intriguing and, in its quiet way, life-affirming.” As a novelist Bjørnstad is also making headlines. His book “To Music” won the “Prix des Lecteurs” award in France, shot into the best-seller lists in Germany, and was nominated for The Independent’s Foreign Fiction Prize in the UK. The prolific author, internationally translated, now rivals the prolific musician for attention and resonance. And where once Bjørnstad kept the disciplines separate, narratives are becoming interwoven and interrelated. In his liner notes for “Night Song” he references his novel “The River” (in Norwegian, “Elven”) and its central character Aksel Vinding, who shares his creator’s musical obsessions. As roles blur into each other, it becomes harder to say with certainty whether Bjørnstad is an author who plays music or a musician who also writes.
On “Night Song”, recorded in Oslo in 2009, Bjørnstad has a musical partner well-versed in chamber music but who is also an artistic polymath. Svaente Henryson’s classical credentials include four years as bassist with the Oslo Philharmonic and two years as principal bassist with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra. As cellist he currently works in duos and trios with distinguished classical musicians including pianists Roland Pöntinen and Bengt Forsberg, clarinettist Martin Fröst, mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and baritone Mikael Samuelson. Henryson’s also a composer of music for vocal and instrumental ensembles of all sizes and his extensive work list includes concertos for cello and bass, choral compositions, chamber pieces. Four of the compositions on “Night Song” are from his pen. ECM listeners first heard Henryson as a member of Jon Balke’s Magnetic North Orchestra on “Kyanos” (2001). In jazz contexts, he has also played in diverse formations with Tord Gustavsen, Marilyn Mazur, Nils Petter Molvaer, Arild Andersen and others. Henryson previously recorded with Ketil Bjornstad on “Seafarer’s Song” (Emarcy Records). His border-crossing forays into the worlds of pop and rock include song-writing collaboration with Elvis Costello, apperances on albums with Stevie Wonder and Ryan Adams, and a 3-year stint as bass guitarist with Yngwie Malmsteen’s hard rock band.
Described as “a cultural prodigy” by The Guardian’s John Fordham, Ketil Bjørnstad studied piano in Oslo, London and Paris, and was set for a career in classical music before exposure to jazz changed his priorities. Although he did not come to ECM until 1993 with “Water Stories” he was involved with the label’s musicians from the early 1970s; his 1973 debut album featuring Arild Andersen and Jon Christensen as rhythm section. From the outset he was also active as journalist and author. From 1972-1998, he was music and literature critic for Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten. He published his first book of poems in 1972 and his first novel in 1974. Many books have followed since then and translations have appeared in Danish, Swedish, German, Dutch, Finnish, English, French, Czech, Polish, Korean, Russian, Bengali, Greek and Turkish.
His ECM albums are “Water Stores” (1993, with Terje Rypdal, Bjørn Kjellemyr, Jon Christensen, Per Hillestad), “The Sea” (1994, with Rypdal, Christensen, David Darling), “The River” (1996, with Darling), “The Sea II” (1996, with Rypdal, Darling, Christensen), “Epigraphs” (1998, with Darling), “Life In Leipzig” (2005, with Rypdal), “The Light” (2007, with Randi Stene, Lars Anders Tomter), and “Remembrance” (2009, with Christensen, Tore Brunborg).
Bjørnstad’s ECM recordings have been incorporated in the soundtracks of numerous films, including several by Jean-Luc Godard: “Notre Musique”, “The Old Place”, “Histoire(s) du Cinéma”, “JLG/JLG”, “Forever Mozart”, and “Eloge de L’amour”.